Julio Jones is gone.
We have heard rumblings for months but it’s still a tough pill to swallow for one of the franchise’s greatest players. The Atlanta Falcons are shipping Julio and a 2023 sixth-round pick off to Tennessee for a 2022 second-rounder and a sixth in 2023. Not the rumored first that Falcons’ fans were hoping for but the best offer the team was likely to receive for a 32-year-old receiver with a fifteen million dollar contract.
There have been rumors that a first-rounder was on the table but the kicker for the Titans deal was the fact that the entire contract would accompany Julio. Over the last few weeks, the market for Julio was rumored to have slowed as teams were wary of his age and injury history. More than one team has been said to have been interested but not for the entire contract, asking the Falcons to absorb part of the 2022 cap hit. Ultimately Terry Fontenot and his front office made the right decision, taking less draft capital to move the entire contract.
While Julio does leave behind some dead cap, the relief for this coming season is a much-needed boost for this team. The team gains fifteen million in cap space for 2021 which will not only allow them to sign their rookie class but also have some capital to make additional moves to continue filling out the roster.
The Falcons’ draft class, headlined by Kyle Pitts, will eat up most of the savings from the trade. After which the team will have around six million to look at the free-agent market. While they’ll want to save a few million as emergency fund heading into the season, there should be enough to add a meaningful piece to this team for the upcoming season.
Terry Fontenot knew he was in a tough spot when he took the job and has said since joining the team that there would be hard decisions to get this team ready. The early expectation was that Matt Ryan would be on his way out sooner than later, a notion quickly disproved as his contract was restructured and the team chose to pass on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the draft.
Trading Julio Jones was always the plan
Drafting a major receiving threat in Kyle Pitts to replace Julio was the first step. Expecting Pitts to be Julio may be foolish, but if anyone were to get close he has the traits to do so. Then, after Julio was cold-called on Undisputed, the rumors of discontent from the superstar have been bubbling to the surface. From being nonplussed with Matt Ryan’s deep ball to unhappy with the teams firing of Dan Quinn. Accompanied by three straight losing seasons and nearing the end of his career it makes sense for Julio to have wanted out, a desire to see what else is out there before his Hall of Fame career reaches the end of the line.
Rumored to have requested a trade and a desire to “win” with a big-armed quarterback that can out throw coverage the options to meet all of Julio’s desires were limited. While the team wanted to do right by Julio they also needed their demands met. Ultimately it came down to which team met both Julio’s desires and the teams demands, the Titan’s turned out to be the best of both worlds.
While Tennessee had a much better season than Atlanta in 2020 it remains to be seen how they will look after the loss of Arthur Smith as offensive coordinator as well as several key pieces on the offense. Defensively the Titans were towards the bottom of the pack as well and outperformed expectations in one-possession games, making them an obvious regression candidate. Only time will tell if Julio got his wish and how well he and Ryan Tannehill gel in year one will be key to their success.
The matter in which it all came crashing down has left many Falcons’ fans with a bad taste in their mouth, however, the deal is done and it’s time to look to who is left in Atlanta and what this team is going to look like going forward without one of it’s most iconic players.
While things may look bleak for the Falcons after a twelve-loss season, the trade of Julio, and limited cap space to make any major additions, there is room for optimism. Arthur Smith and Dean Pees should be upgrades over their predecessors. Calvin Ridley looked like a superstar in seven games without Julio last year. Russell Gage was on pace to be a 1000 yard receiver and Kyle Pitts has the potential to be the an all time great tight-end. Now with some cap space the Falcons can add additional free agents and this team has the potential to surprise a lot of people.
Julio’s gone and number 11 will always hold a special place in our hearts but for now, it is time to get excited for the 2021 Atlanta Falcons and where this team is headed.